Colorado legislators and voters should pay close attention to what tough-on-crime advocates say about the state’s death penalty — because they make the most persuasive arguments for abolishing it.
Amidst dramatic opposition, the Colorado General Assembly for the fourth time in recent years is moving forward with a bill to end capital punishment. It’s all drama. There are no valid arguments against death penalty repeal.
At the front of the line of those inadvertently making the case for repeal is Arapahoe County District Attorney George Brauchler, who has long been a staunch capital-punishment proponent.
Last week, Brauchler led charged and conspicuous testimony at the state Capitol against Senate Bill 182.
Brauchler, like other proponents, says the death penalty is a deterrent to murder, saves taxpayers money and creates a powerful bargaining tool to drive plea deals. Any jury would dismiss any and all of those arguments based on the facts in the case, which Brauchler and others cannot deny nor overturn.
Study after study — after study — has shown repeatedly and recently that those states with death penalties have relatively the same murder rate as states without the death penalty.
Simply repeating the myth of death penalties as a deterrent does not make it true.
Even a remarkable analysis by the National Research Council of the National Academies focusing on decades of death penalty deterrence studies concludes that death penalties aren’t a factor in murder rates.
If that is confusing to Brauchler and others, current statistics aren’t. States with death penalties suffer the same murder rates and the same monstrous homicides as do those without them.
Residents don’t have to look any further than Texas and Florida for endless vile and shocking crimes and rates of murder. Those states market their so-called fast-track to lethal injection, as if it were some kind of morbid economic-development or quality-of-life boon to lure tourists and new businesses. And still, it does nothing to quell the rate nor the caliber of murder.
Brauchler and others are just as mistaken about Colorado’s death penalty saving taxpayers money. In fact, this misnomer alone is one of the most compelling arguments for ending capital punishment.
Again, endless studies have shown repeatedly that death penalty cases are obscenely expensive. They’re inordinately costly first to prosecute and then to pursue for decades during unavoidable appeals and shockingly expensive special prison arrangements.
Brauchler himself forced this community to bear the financial and emotional burden of a death-penalty trial against Aurora theater shooting convict James Holmes, squandering more than $3 million of taxpayer money on the trial alone — and then predictably losing it.
As for using the threat of execution as a bargaining chip for justice, extorting any human life for any reason should never be part of the American justice system. It reduces all of us the criminals we are forced to deal with.
The real problem is that district attorneys like Brauchler are too easily lured into what they see as the political gain of backing the death-penalty and the occasional trial.
The facts speak for themselves against Brauchler’s arguments, and many other flawed justifications.
It is undeniable that the death penalty is imposed capriciously in Colorado, and across the nation. There is no avoiding the shocking fact that of all the thousands of repugnant murders committed in Colorado, there are but a smattering of death row inmates. They are all from one of Aurora’s district courts. They are all black. They are all guilty of atrocious crimes that in no way set them apart from many other horrifying murders in the state.
Just recently, in two famously politically conservative communities, Weld and El Paso counties, two of the most lurid and unnerving murders in state history bypassed death row. Christopher Watt never faced the death penalty for murdering his wife and two daughters, one of whom begged for her life. Patrick Frazee tried to get his girlfriend to murder his fiancé before he bashed in her head by himself and apparently then burned her corpse.
That’s not justice, which the death penalty never delivers.
It does not bring back the dead, and it in no way makes the dead victims nor their suffering families whole.
The death penalty is nothing more than senseless and barbaric revenge that puts innocent state employees in the position of being paid killers. It survives on flawed emotional arguments that have no basis in reality nor the clear facts.
This is now Colorado’s best opportunity to end a practice that inarguably has no benefit, is exceedingly expensive, and doesn’t even deliver what it promises: executed convicts.
State lawmakers should support and pass Senate Bill 182, and voters should encourage them.